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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

October 28, 2003


Bear with me, I'm not using innernet-speak all of a sudden. Although the state of the Conservative Party does make you laugh out loud, as well as chuckle quietly to yourself. No, I thought I'd just helpfully point out the problem the Tories have at the moment: Little Old Ladies.

What a huge strategic error it was for them to make the Conservative Party more democratic, by allowing its members to vote for the leader. For younger listeners, the Tory leader used to be elected by the Parliamentary Party. That way, they tended to choose a natural leader from among their own ranks, who was a good Parliamentary performer. The crucial thing is that a huge percentage of people will always vote the way they vote, no matter what. You could elect Humpty Dumpty or indeed Boris Johnson as Tory leader and the little old ladies, the residents of Windsor, Kensington, Chelsea, etc. etc., would still vote for him.

The voters who matter in elections are the floaters, the tiny percentage of fickle, grasping, fair-weather friends who actually affect the outcome. These are the people you need to appeal to with your leader. The members of parliament always knew this, and on the whole managed to keep electing people who could do that job.

But I guess we can thank the gods for Ted Heath and his enthusiasm for Europe, because 30 years later the subject rips at the heart of what the Party stands for. The Little Old Ladies hate it; the floaters are largely indifferent, unless the subject is the straightness of bananas.

So while the LOLs have any say in the matter, natural candidates like Michael Portillo, or even British American Tobacco's own Ken Clarke, don't stand the slightest chance of winning leadership contests. So following the nonentity Major, we had the nonentity Hague, and then the nonentity Duncan Smith. A pattern emerges. They keep electing people who are not Ken or Michael, and become a laughing stock.

Portillo has been on the telly. He's presented thoughtful historical documentaries, and he's put on a pinny and worked in Asda. He has, in short, worked harder than anyone else within the Tory Party to redeem himself from the low point of 1997, when the nation guffawed as he lost his seat. He has toiled to bring himself back from that point, to make himself seem more warm, tolerant, caring, and cuddly. He has done what the Party needed to do after the scorched earth Thatcher era; and if the rest of them had worked half as hard as he has, they'd be electable by now. Of course he's the only one who stands a chance of winning a general election (not the next one perhaps, but the one after).

But this is what I think: I think the LOLs have the suspicion that he might be ever so slightly gay. Also that he might be ever so slightly foreign, and therefore suspect as far as the Queen's head on the coin of the realm is concerned.

Which might be ironic, when you think about Ted Heath and his boat and his orchestra.


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